Everyone is all “powerful corporate agribusiness pulling strings in Congress for WATER GRAB!!!” but what this Feinstein/Westlands ploy shows me is that Westlands is pretty well out of options, and they don’t have enough power to pull off the options they try.
This move, Sen Feinstein adding a rider onto an entirely different Congressional jobs bill. What does it show? First, that the state courts aren’t getting it done for Westlands. They’re fighting in Judge Wanger’s court, and between the two listed species (smelt and salmon) and the two species protection laws (federal and state), Judge Wanger’s efforts can’t get both sets of pumps turned on for more than a couple days. They can’t get any traction elsewhere in the state. Gov. Schwarzenegger may take pictures with the faux Latino Water Coalition, but he doesn’t have the clout to sway anyone on anything; the speaker from the Little Hoover Commission at the water law symposium said he sees little political will to change the ESA (state or federal); the farthest the legislature is willing to go is to create a separate panel to (maybe) OK a Peripheral Canal (in ten years) so long as every single legislator is bought off with some nice watershed projects in her district.
At the federal level on the executive side, the Obama administration doesn’t put out for Westlands. I haven’t read even a rumor of Obama calling in the God Squad to override the Endangered Species Act. The Interior Department has gotten picky about backing decisions with science; they didn’t move ahead on Two Gates even though Westlands wanted the project. Secretary Salazar isn’t mouthing Westlands’ contra-factual talking points about food security. At the recent irrigation conference, the director of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region, Don Glaser, said he sees no political will to overturn the Endangered Species Act. Westlands (and Resnick) did indeed get a pet senator to propose a rider to a jobs bill, but let’s look at that.
Westlands got one CA senator; the other is certain to be opposed. It has be a rider on something popular, because it would go absolutely nowhere as a stand-alone measure. As a stand-alone measure, it has already been shot down a couple times already (DeMint’s version and wasn’t there another?). When this goes down, (which it will, since it raised quite a firestorm) where can Westlands go next? At the federal level, the executive branch isn’t with them. This is their best chance on the legislative side, because the circus clowns in the House are only embarrassing themselves when they hold their own special hearings and bring fishbowls to real hearings. At the state level, the executive can’t get it done. The state legislature did what they are willing to last year. The judicial side is in Judge Wanger’s room, and locked in knots. Public opinion? The public doesn’t know much about Westlands; thinks the 5 is ugly; and if they do know any tidbit at all, they quote Reisner. Corporate agribusiness1!! This jobs bill rider is Westland’s best shot, and it is a crappy one. When it fails, what is their next venue? The next California elections can only bring in a more hostile administration. They don’t have a next venue, except maybe the collaborative Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.
They don’t even have this venue. A day after a wishy-washy announcement by Sen. Feinstein, the LA Times, the SF Chron and the Bee slammed the measure. Since then, everyone has piled on with additional commentary. The blogs are digging into what usually slips through as banal rhetoric. This sort of thing doesn’t go un-noticed any more; there is no cover for legislative moves. Other legislators are standing up to Sen. Feinstein. The public is deeply primed to repeat any story that sounds like a Reisner characterization (agribusiness, bought politician, water grab). And this move has pissed people off. Seriously, the worst case for Westlands is that Sen. Feinstein somehow gets it through. Imagine it passes, and the water Feinstein wants to deliver comes out of Met’s allotment. Really, Westlands? You want Met as an angry enemy? You were hoping to personally piss off twenty million people south of the Tehachapis2? Think of all the stories this summer about rationing water in LA so that Westlands can grow an extra hundred thousand acres of cotton. Every last water district in LA will point straight to Westlands when they have to raise rates. “The drought is over, but you can’t water your lawn because some corporate growers took your water to grow alfalfa in the desert.” Imagine it passes and causes the collapse of BDCP. Do you have any idea what the agencies have invested in BDCP? Westlands may think that because it is the last good hope, because so much has been spent on it, they can fuck with BDCP and people will have to go along. But if they actually break BDCP, Westlands will be the people who killed the last good hope and agency staff will be beyond furious. Suppose it passes, and the pumping kills a bunch of salmon. Then enviros can legitimately say that Westlands (and Westlands alone, because they’re the ones who rigged this) is not only bird-deformers, but salmon-enders. This move was a serious over-extension for Westlands; they cannot have thought about how it would turn out for them if it actually worked. Perhaps they thought it would quietly slip by, but those days are gone.
Westlands’ best bet is a fast retreat, vowing new appreciation and love for collaborative solutions. They won’t win this, and it would be a huge disaster for them if they somehow did2, 3. I suggest: “Because we love BDCP so damn much, we are voluntarily asking Sen. Feinstein, wonderful person that she is, to please join us and the NAS review in exploring long terms options for the health of the Delta and the farming economy. P.S. Vote for the bond.” Then Westlands should fire the person who thought of this. It showed the rest of us that they don’t have better options than this terrible idea, and they don’t even have the power to pull it off.
1I have to say, the Resnicks are not helping Westlands at all on this front. Seriously. Live in Beverly Hills, buy senators and farm the west side? That’s what everyone has thought since Cadillac Desert and those two confirm every stereotype. Hee. They should actually drive a Cadillac with vanity plates that say DESERT. That would rock. If they did that, I would be entirely won over and switch all my allegiances.
2What gives you the authority to be a district, Westlands? That’s a delegation from the legislature, either as special district legislation or as a district formed under the standard district enabling legislation. (I could look it up, I suppose, but that would take work.) What the legislature grants, the legislature can take away. If you really take water out of Met’s allotment, twenty million SoCal voters (and everyone in the Delta and the folks you pissed off up in Redding) have quite a lot of representatives in the California legislature. They might start looking at alternatives if Westlands were a real nuisance, instead of just an unsustainable expense and some dead fish.
3Westlands, you’re on the ropes and the ref is looking real concerned. You talk like you just want to hold out a little longer. But I’m telling you. You do not want to survive another round. What for? Look. The past three years are going to be good years when the new climate arrives; there will be much less catch-able runoff and summer temps will be hotter, with higher ET demands. If you pump any more groundwater, you’re going to break the Delta-Mendota Canal. I see no clear path to a three billion dollar drain for your selenium drainage. You can’t flush salts on the water allowance you’re going to get. Surviving to fight another day is literally just that, surviving to be as embattled as you were these past couple years all the time. If these weren’t good years for you, why do you want them and worse for the rest of your farming careers? You need to get out fast, and hopefully seize some of that first mover advantage, like your buddies in Dudley Ridge. Sic your pitbulls on extorting severances and buy-outs from the nation as a whole. Use your Congressional buddies to get some subsidized solar power money that doesn’t end up being a good deal for the country. The future isn’t going to be like the past for you guys. It is going to be much, much worse. You shouldn’t be fighting to preserve your current positions. Why hover on the edge of knock-out for years?